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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Farm Fresh

I was going to call this post Eggheads, or Eggsellent, or Eggstravaganza! But when it comes to eggs, The Porkchop Express is dead serious. Serious like a fox. A fox who loves ham omelettes.

Most good eats begin with good ingredients, and this is especially true of eggs. As it so happens, the recipe for a good egg is pretty simple: Farm Fresh. The fresher the better. Do you remember that old Seinfeld episode where Kramer spits his “sweatshop hen” scrambleds back on the plate? He was on point, a point I was determined to punctuate.

Still, I had never actually sat down and run taste tests. So I picked up a goofy egg pan (non-stick, chicken motif, perfect for frying one egg) and three dozen farm fresh specimens to answer one of life’s great questions: do happy hens make tastier eggs? Let’s find out.

Knoll Krest Farm has been family-owned for about 60 years, and it shows. They run a tight ship, but still preserve that human touch. Their menu consists of 6 smiling eggs, a few squares of cardboard, and some strategically-applied duct tape. They had a few chickens for sale, but I stuck to the mission.

Henry of Knoll Krest clearly knows his trade, and he was kind enough to school me on the basics of eggology. Here are a few morsels. Brown and white eggs come from different hens (the Rhode Island Red and the White Leghorn respectively), but the flavor is indistinguishable. The only noteworthy difference is the shell strength (browns are harder), so base your choice upon crack-style and wrist-capacity. Also, hens do 85% of their laying from around 17 weeks to 18 months of age. Even in chicken years, poultry seem to be growing up fast these days.

Knoll Krest’s hens are vegetarian. They peck at natural ingredients, and roam free indoors. With the bird flu scare rising, Henry was quick to note that they also get blood tests at least once a month (a logistical nightmare, I'd imagine). If these birds are amongst the healthiest, their eggs are some of the freshest; they are brought to market the day after they drop.

I sampled both ends of the spectrum: Jumbo browns ($3.00/doz.) and Baby whites ($1.25/dozen). Henry confided that his favorite way to eat an egg was raw. My heart was willing, but my flesh was weak. Since I had just stopped training for Rocky 6 last week, I went with option #2 and decided to fry them both sunnyside-up in butter.

Terrific. I usually think of fried eggs as the final frontier, but not in an exciting way. It’s what I eat when I’m feeling lazy, am out of Ramen, and don’t have enough cash to order delivery. But these eggs had something special that called me back for seconds. Both the Jumbo and the Baby were rich and fresh, with nice light whites and clean-tasting yolks.

Tale of the Tape
Baby White and Jumbo Brown
Note the Baby's cloudy white,
and relatively high yolk volume

If I had to choose I’d say the Baby won out for sheer sweetness. This small, young egg is naturally cholesterol-free, and the yolks (which have yet to fully form) lack even a hint of bitterness. When people describe non-creamy foods as “creamy,” this is what they mean: a butter-poached baby egg less than 24 hours from the farm.

Knoll Krest might be a tough act to follow, but Tello’s Green Farm was more than up to the task. Nestor and Alejandra Tello got started in Duchess County in 2000. Both hail from Colombia, where they honed their egging skills. Their pedigree is top-notch: each comes from an agricultural family, and Nestor received his degree in veterinary medicine. The smiles are even more telling. These are folks who love what they do, and that good cheer is infectious.
Alejandra Tello, talkin' eggs

Don't just take my word for it, visit their stand. The most endearing part of the Tello experience is the small photo album they keep up front. Flip through and you will see where they live. With their chickens. Chickens are everywhere: under shelters (that Nestor made), in the fields, trailing a tractor, roaming the yard. These hens aren’t simply free-range; they have a veritable run of the land. Tello’s egg cartons proudly note “happy chickens,” and it’s not difficult to see why.

Their sign claims that they sell veggies too, but I didn’t see any and didn’t feel like pressing Alejandra. Why bother? Eggs were the stars of the show, all browns (from Long Island Reds), save a small number of blue-green Araconas that had already sold out.

You’d have to have a heart of stone not to smile at these specimens. One dozen Extra-Larges so plump, they barely fit the carton. Each egg a different shade, from dark-flecked caramel to creamy café-au-lait. And yolks a proud, fiery orange. As charming as Ms. Tello was, I couldn’t wait to get home.

I immediately put an XL ($3.25/doz.) to the sunnyside-up test. And as for the taste, well…once again, terrific. In fact, I’ve eaten three more just while writing this. They're so good, they'll lodge in your brain. You'll find yourself walking numbly to a silly pan with a hen on the handle, melting some butter, and quickly cooking an egg. My wife thinks I've gone daffy, and maybe she's right. That's the power of Farm Fresh.

How else to eat? You can never go wrong with the ham omelette. You might also try tossing a few with a little heavy cream and some chives. And if you have any extra, they make terrific pasta, crêpes, or buttermilk pancakes. Above all, have fun. Respect the egg and your happiness will know no bounds. Not if you keep these puppies (chicklets?) handy.

Both farms sell directly from the Union Square Farmers Market in Manhattan. Knoll Krest operates on Saturdays and Wednesdays, Tello’s on Mondays and Fridays. Earlier is better for a full selection (they go fast). Better still, if you find yourself in Duchess County see if you can pick a few fresh from the hen.

Knoll Krest Farm
Clinton Corners, NY
(845) 266-3845/3720

Tello's Green Farm
Red Hook, NY
(845) 758-5058



Blogger Elisabeth said...

Hey slab, eggs are the best. Only about 70 calories per. If you've gone obsessive all that butter's going to hurt, so hard boil them for 8 minutes The yolks will still be a little wet and a lot tasty, then get cozy with a large jar of good Dijon mustard. Heaven.

3:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

best eggs every anywhere? tello doesn't even come close. they way to judge an egg is by the shape and color yolk and the thickness of the white when you fry it. great yolks sit high and plump and are a deep orange, almost neon color and the white of a really fresh lay is concentrated and thick..it holds its shape. tellos's yolks are pale yellow. i'd tell you where to get the best but they already sell out by 10 a.m. at the grand army farmer's market so i'll keep it to myself and just give that hint.

4:47 PM  
Blogger J. Slab said...

great description of the whites, Bob. out of curiosity, do you think tello's eggs have gone down in quality? this post was from last year, and i have noticed their yolks are not as bright these days.... i assume that's feed related.

as for another grand army option, i'm partial to the Flying Pigs auraconas... got some just this morning, in fact

11:05 AM  

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